Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Misunderstanding of Not Listening

I tell people that I speak fluent Spanish. When I say this, I mean that I can be dropped in any Spanish-speaking country and be able to find food, shelter, beer and bathrooms, barring a cultural misunderstanding. I can converse about the weather, politics, people, my life, other peoples’ lives, food, drink, and if you’re really lucky, I might even let you talk too. Being fluent, however, does not mean that I know all the words for everything.
If you think about it, this is obvious. When you take a class in just about anything, the first thing you have to learn is the subject’s vocabulary. For example, I know plenty of useless words about Latin American Literature due to the many, many classes I have taken on the subject. One thing I don’t know about, however – in English or Spanish – is cars.
Yesterday I took the truck I’m driving in to get a short circuit fixed. The turn signals weren’t working, and the gas gauge wasn’t reading how much gas was in the tank. Phil, a friend of the people who I’m house- and dog-sitting for, took me to the dusty little lot where a good car electrician worked. We explained to them that we’d already replaced the fuse multiple times and that it blew almost immediately after each time it was replaced. They told me to come back in two hours, and I did. They showed me that the turn signals worked and added that the “floater” (the sensor that reads how much gas is in the tank) in the gas tank didn’t work anymore. I used the blinkers, saw that they worked, paid them, backed out of the lot and didn’t make it around the block before the fuse blew again. I went back, told them nothing was working, they messed around with the fuses some more, let me leave and I made it to the end of the street before turning around.
Each time, they told me that the gas gauge wouldn’t work. Each time, I assumed they were wrong because it had worked before. Finally, they told me to come back later in the afternoon, so they could dig in and figure out why the fuse continued to blow. When I came back with Phil, who knows a lot more than I do about cars, I finally got that the reason the gas gauge wasn’t going to work was because the short was in the sensor, and they had disconnected it so the turn signals would work. Basically, the sensor had to be replaced.
Now, like I said, I speak fluent Spanish. Even with not knowing anything about cars, I should have been able to understand that they had disconnected the sensor earlier, because they kept telling me that they had. The problem was that I wasn’t hearing them – that what they were telling me had nothing to do with what I wanted to hear.
This wasn’t a language barrier. It was a barrier that came from ignorance on my part and from not being able to put what they were saying in context, because I wasn’t listening. It got me to thinking: how often do I really listen? What else have people been trying to tell me that I haven’t been able to hear? How much am I missing because I’m too stuck in my own view of how it works?
I can usually remember when I’m on the other side of this problem; when someone, it seems, is purposely misunderstanding me. Obviously it’s much more difficult to be able to see your own blindness with the same clarity. I can’t take back what I’ve been unable to see in the past, but I can try to see from now on with new eyes, eyes that connect to a mind that is not shielding itself from reality because it doesn’t fit into my own personal view. I’m not sure why it ever became this way, nor am I foolish enough to think that I’m the only one it happens to. None of that really matters, however. What does matter is the ability to make a personal choice to take off the blinders and try walking without them. Maybe I’ll be able to become fluent with other people in the process.

Love and misunderstood kisses

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Monday, May 3, 2010

I Am A Writer.

It’s not an easy process to become a writer. First, you have to realize that you can write. I don’t say that you can write well, and I don’t mean that you sit down and pound out an email. Anyone with the ability to put letters down on paper or type them onto a screen is a writer. EVERYONE is a writer.
What I mean by realizing you can write is that you have to get to the point where you say, even if it’s just to yourself, “I can write.”
This doesn’t mean that everyone else tells you that you’re a writer. This doesn’t mean you humbly threw an essay into a contest and got a runner’s up award, and it surprised you “because you didn’t really realize that you could write.” I mean that you have to have the conversation with yourself where you admit that you identify with writing in much the same way that watercolor artists identify with paint brushes: sometimes, you just want to pick up the pen (or brush) and write (or paint).
Contrary to popular belief, you are not a writer when other people tell you that you are. If I had believed what everyone else had told me, I would have started calling myself a writer when I was about 10 years old. If I had started calling myself a writer when I started writing, I could say that I’ve been a writer since I was about eight. On the other hand, I am not published and I don’t make money on my writing, so I am not a writer by most peoples’ standards.
I didn’t think you could call yourself a writer until you were good at it, which, to me, meant that you were published, but more than that, I didn’t think you could be a writer until everything you wrote was publishable.
Well, that’s just crap. Even the best writers write unpublishable shit. Basically, I was waiting for writing perfection before I called myself a writer, but perfectionism should not be an aim, because nobody is perfect and you’ll stop yourself before you get anywhere if that’s what you’re aiming for.
I recently read in a blog that it would be a good idea to write down 100 accomplishments that I’m proud of. It took me two days and thirty items before it occurred to me to write down that I was proud of the ability to write. Once I did, I was surprised that it had taken me so long, but I knew why: because I didn’t think I had done anything worth being proud of with my writing yet; I don’t have any published books and I don’t make money writing; what gave me the right to call myself a writer?
When you start a new job, you get to have a title, a title that someone else wrote for you based on your job description. We never question the right to give or accept that title, but that could be because we only consider a title as important if it’s tied to a job and it makes you money. But just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be.
So I made a decision: I gave myself permission to call myself a writer. This isn’t because I think I am the best writer there is, or that someday I will be rich and famous because of my writing. I am calling myself a writer because it is a craft that I want to spend time on, because it makes me feel good about myself when I write; because I have something to say, and because I have the guts to say it.
When I was filling out the paperwork on the plane for the Mexican tourist visa, I wrote “writer” as my profession. I am identifying as a writer because that is what I want to be. I am a writer because you cannot be a writer if you don’t call yourself one; if you refuse to admit to your aspirations, your own refusal to give yourself the title will ultimately hold you back. I am a writer because I am willing to spend the time and energy to improve my craft. I am a writer because I do it every day. I am a writer, not because anyone else says I am, but because I say I am, and I’m the one who should know.

Love and writer kisses,